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Regional News

Marshalls’ Heine survives no-confidence vote

MAJURO — Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine survived a vote of no-confidence Monday afternoon, as parliament split evenly 16-16.

The movers of the motion of no confidence needed 17 votes to topple Heine. The vote was held with 32 of the 33 members present, as one was off-island for medical treatment.

Hilda Heine

In pre-vote comments to the public and media, President Heine had said the no confidence motion was largely motivated by a proposal by an outside investor, Cary Yan, to create an investor haven at Rongelap Atoll. But debate in parliament Monday morning was limited to the five issues identified by the opposition, which did not include mention of the Rongelap proposal.

President Heine, Finance Minister Brenson Wase and Foreign Minister John Silk led 45 minutes of government response to the five issues outlined by the motion movers, with President Heine saying the vote was really a “referendum about our own politics.”

Wase said the criticism of the Marshall Islands government for moving ahead with a digital currency plan has been overtaken by events, with numerous countries in the Pacific following the Marshall Islands with announcements that they will be establishing their own digital currencies and requesting support from the International Monetary Fund. He said delays in releasing the Marshall Islands’ “SOV” digital currency were so the country could meet the requirements of the U.S., European Union and others.

Silk said the international recognition accorded President Heine and her government showed the opposition’s contention that the government had ruined the nation’s reputation internationally was wrong. He cited donors doubling their annual grants and the country’s chairmanship of various global climate groups.

Opposition Senators Casten Nemra, Bruce Bilimon and Alfred Alfred, Jr. fired back, hammering the government on lack of transparency in handling theft of money from its national trust fund in 2017 and saying the government had taken away people’s right to vote by eliminating postal absentee balloting for islanders living offshore.

The parliament chamber was packed with a standing-room crowd to view the debate and the vote that followed.

Immediately after the vote results were confirmed, Speaker Kenneth Kedi, who had backed the no confidence move, congratulated Heine and her Cabinet, and then, following a motion to recess, declared Nitijela to be in recess pending the call of the Speaker.